Saturday, November 26, 2011

Cyborg Insects

A reader sends this in:  scientists are working on turning Green June Bugs into cyborg bugs.

NaNoWriMo Update

Okay, I'm not going to be finished with the rough draft of Rag & Muffin by the end of the month.  That's just not going to happen.  But I am going to be finished next month for sure.  Current word count is 68,390, and I have portions of four chapters left to write.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

io9 on the Most Unintentionally Scary Movies

The sf website io9 has a list up of movies, mostly children's films, that are unintentionally frightening.  Some of the movies listed, like Labyrinth, are, I think, only scary to adults, but I remember some of them freaking me out as a kid:  The hell scene in All Dogs Go to Heaven was still making me wake up in a cold sweat a year later, and everybody remembers the nefarious boat ride in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

The best one on the list may be Watership Down.  Mind you, I only read the book as a kid (and I thought it was awesome), but everyone I know who saw the movie claims it warped him for life:  there he was, an innocent kid picking up a cartoon about fuzzy talking bunny rabbits . . . and then the blood started flowing.

And just for the record, the scariest thing about Labyrith, not mentioned in the io9 article, is David Bowie's pants.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Book Review: 'Maximum Ride' Volumes 2 and 3

Sorry, I walked into the environmentalist lecture by mistake. Can you direct me to the YA action novel?

Maximum Ride: School's Out - Forever by James Patterson.  Grand Central Publishing (2007).  368 pages.  Paperback.  $7.99.  ISBN-10:  0446618896.

Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports by James Patterson.  Little, Brown, and Co. (2008).  432 pages.  Paperback.  $8.99.  ISBN-10:  031615427X.

Previously, on The Sci Fi Catholic, I gave a glowing review of the first volume in James Patterson's Maximum Ride series, and then some fans showed up and read me the riot act because I played a little loose with the details in my plot summary, so just for the record:  Yes, I know the genetically engineered werewolves are called Erasers, so calm down, crazy people.

Being on a job that left me in a remote part of the country where I had access to libraries but not consistent access to the internet, I recently read the second and third volumes in this series, School's Out - Forever and Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports.  The first title gets points off for having a dash in it, and the second gets points off for containing seven words.  I will now perform the unenviable tasks of reviewing these two books without having either of them in front of me, since they're back at the library where I read them, which I think is in another state, and of writing my review on the fly in a coffee shop where I can get internet access and a mean chai latte.

I enjoyed School's Out - Forever almost as much as I enjoyed the first volume, The Angel Experiment, though my standards are admittedly low:  due to my heroine addiction, I could enjoy pretty much any novel about a sarcastic mutant fourteen-year-old girl who spends her free time beating up werewolves.  Like its predecessor, School's Out - Forever,which I'm going to abbreviate to SO-F from here on out, is a fast-paced book filled with absurdities and lapses in logic, leaning heavily on its protagonist's one-liners and snappy narration.

To recap, Maximum Ride and her five pals are genetically engineered human-avian hybrids who escaped from the mad scientists who created them, and are on the run from a group of crazy werewolves sent by the same mad scientists.  They fly around from place to place, snark frequently, complain about being Cursed with Awesome, visit lots of tourist attractions, eat junk food, and either fight werewolves or develop new superpowers whenever the pace starts to flag.

As the second volume opens, Max and her "flock" of genetically engineered flying children are attacked yet again by the werewolves created by the mad scientists who can't make up their minds if they want Max captured or dead, and after one of the kids gets injured, they end up in a hospital where they're quickly accosted by the FBI, which decides it's a good idea for them to all go and live in the home of a motherly female FBI agent.

From that point forward, Patterson apparently forgets that it's supposed to be an FBI agent who's adopted them (when one of them leaves without notice, she panics, has no idea what to do, and even threatens to call the police).  They proceed to have a normal life of sorts and get enrolled in a prestigious school, which gives Patterson opportunity to toss in some standard adolescent shenanigans:  Max has a first date, she gets jealous when she sees the guy she likes kissing the little red-haired girl, one of the kids set off bombs in the toilets, etc.  Naturally, they discover that the school has dark secrets and a morbid history, and there's a tunnel in the basement, and there's a weird and sinister looking filing system, and then the protagonists say SCREW THAT, WE'RE GOING TO DISNEYLAND.

No, seriously.  The story just sort of stops, switches gears, and they all go off to Disneyland, leaving the sinister school and the not-really-an-FBI-agent mom more-or-less unexplained.  I don't usually use this kind of language, but I was shouting, "WTH?!?" (which stands for "What the Heck?!?") right there in the library.  I'm lucky I didn't get kicked out.

For all that, I had a good time reading SO-F.  Like the first novel, it's shoddy, with plot holes large enough to fly a human-avian hybrid through, and reads like Patterson pounded it out over a fun weekend in between other projects.  Nonetheless, the fun he undoubtedly had writing it comes through, and I had fun reading it.  I had to set my brain on "Low" to enjoy it, though, and I had to not simply suspend my disbelief, but draw and quarter it.  Fortunately, that's easy for me to do.

With volume 3, Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports, which contains no extreme sports unless you count sprinting and tractor-pulling, the series sort of starts to suck.  First, the heroes get a new batch of villains who are lamer than the previous villains.  Second, although Max is for the most part an entertaining narrator, she by this time has started to wear on me, and if she's wearing on me, with my heroine addiction, she's probably downright irritating to other people.  Yes, Max, I know it sucks to be you, to have superpowers and a hot boyfriend and all that junk.*  Now shut up and punch a werewolf.

But the real reason STWAOES . . . good grief . . . is not as good as its predecessors is--wait for it--relevancy.  Blech.  Prior to this, the series was about children snarfing donuts and beating up monsters, but all of a sudden, with the third volume, it's about beating the reader over the head with some message about recycling.  I've nothing against recycling, mind you, but Maximum Ride is not deep enough or internally consistent enough to have earned the right to preach anything whatsoever, but what it does preach is not interesting, nor unique, nor particularly bright.  In fact, the bird kids even start their own agitprop campaign that is as eerily content-free as the current Occupy Wall Street nonsense:  Yo!  The adults have messed stuff up!  We kids should take over and do . . . something.

At one point toward the end, Max gives a stirring sermon on how we shouldn't budget for a military and the government should take care of everybody.  Uh huh.  Whatevs, Max.  Shut up and punch a werewolf.

Paper-thin though they are, I like these characters, so I'm willing to pick up the fourth volume in the hopes that it will suck less hard than the third one did, but unless Patterson drops the Oh noes! Global Warming! thing, and fast, I'll probably be giving it a thumbs down.  When I pay James Patterson my hard-earned bucks to tell me a brain cell-destroying story about monster-fighting children, I don't want to hear a lecture on my carbon footprint.  Now where's that chai latte I ordered?

Content:  Intelligence-free attempt at a "message," frequent action violence, mild crude language, some sensuality--whatever the heck that means.  I'm getting pretty good at these meaningless rating system content lists, doncha think?

*To the fans who are going to write in, I know he is not technically her boyfriend at this point. Calm down, crazy people.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Query for Weapons Buffs

One of the characters in my work in progress uses an AK-47 with an under-barrel GP-25 grenade launcher.  I'm trying to find out if there's a baton grenade for the GP-25, and what it's called.  Does anybody know anything about it?

Inadvertent Commentary on Modern Art

A reader sent me this, and I have to pass it along:

Oops! Cleaner Scrubs Away $1.1M Artwork

A cleaning woman at a German art museum mistook a $1.1 million sculpture for a mess, and made a bigger mess of things when she scrubbed most of it away.

The cleaner went to work on the Martin Kippenberger installation titled "When It Starts Dripping From the Ceiling," a patina intended to look like a dried rain puddle, The Associated Press reported. [more . . .]

Need we any further evidence that modern art is junk?

Revolution in Thought Comes from Psychological Study

A new psychological study from Kansas State University discovers that some people don't like fantasy fiction because they think it's boring:

According to Russell Webster, doctoral student in psychology at Kansas State University, people experience fantasy differently, and some people enjoy it more than others. [more . . .]

Well, stop the freakin' presses.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Rag & Muffin for NaNoWriMo

Well, why not?  I'm out in the boonies on a job where I have infrequent internet access but plenty of time to write, and I'm making unexpectedly good progress on the rough draft of what I hope will be the first in a series with the title Rag & Muffin, a play-on-words of which I'm fond.  Previously, this first volume was entitled Rag & Muffin: Girl Trouble, but after I realized that wasn't descriptive and didn't sound exciting, I changed it to the clunkier but more interesting Rag & Muffin: Tales of a Fourth Grade War Goddess.  More tweaking will likely occur.  That's why they call these working titles.

Anyway, looking at my progress and remembering that this month is NaNoWriMo, I figured I might as well make it a goal to have the rough draft churned out by the end of the month, since I've already done most of the character development, world-building, and research over the last five years (including a trip to India to get first-hand knowledge of the culture I'm ripping off for the exotic fantasy setting), looks feasible at this point.  I'm not really doing the whole competition thing; I started writing it before the month began, and I'd rather turn out a decent draft than be able to say I managed to write all of it by the end of November, but having the goal might help me work harder, so from time to time I'll make the blog even more narcissistic than usual by giving word-count updates throughout the month, as my circumstances permit.

Not bothering to do the traditional word count still used by editors, I look down at the bar at the bottom of Microsoft Word, the only program on my new computer that still likes to crash on a regular basis, and see this:

37,124 words.

That's not a bad start.  That's also more than eight completely drafted chapters, yo.

At the very least, since I already know the characters and know exactly where the novel is going, I won't have to use the NaNoWriMo technique of "Just Add Ninja" to keep the story moving.  I am, however, planning to throw in some demon-possessed Chinese robots armed with chainsaw-ax-scissors, but those are supposed to be in there.  No, really.

Now if We Can Just Make People Understand that the Whole Field of Social Psychology Is a Fraud, We'll Be in Good Shape

"Psychologist Admits to Faking Dozens of Scientific Studies"

Every branch of science has its share of "sexy" studies—so called for their supposed tendency to provoke media attention, even in the absence of strong or conclusive findings—but investigations in the field of social psychology are often especially popular targets of the "sexy" label.

Now, prominent social psychologist Diederik Stapel (who earlier this year reported that something as trivial as litter can promote discriminatory behavior) has been outed as one of the biggest frauds in scientific history. Will social psychology be able to recover? [more . . .]